The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
Changes are the name of the game in the world of girls basketball for Port Arthur Memorial, Nederland and Port Neches-Groves this season. The Lady Titans will have to adapt to losing the district MVP, defensive player of the year and more after winning the first district title in school history.
For Nederland and PN-G, the change will be about adapting to new coaches, as Anna Benefield takes over the Lady Bulldogs and Sheree Downs is set to helm the Lady Indians.
Last year, Memorial won the first district title in school history, sharing first place with North Shore. The Lady Titans then won their bi-district playoff game before falling to Clear Springs in the area round.
Lady Titans head coach Kevin Henry said that he’ll take the change isn’t all bad, as this year’s team returns more experienced and ready to play at a high level again.
“We’ve got six returners, with one returning starter in Crystal Sallier and two part-time starters in Dorcieve Davis and Loren Evans,” Henry said. “All those girls have very high basketball IQs. Of the six returners, four of them have played together since middle school. Their chemistry on the court is very good. They’ve played together for so long that they know each other like back of their hands. Sallier and Ariel Hutchinson both have been on varsity since they were freshman. They bring a lot of experience to the table.”
Henry may have lost Pauletta Powell, Velma Brown and Chaterra Cage, but he’s got a host of players back this year who figure to make an impact. That list starts with Ariel Hutchinson, who has been first team all-district for the past two seasons and should lead the Lady Titans back court.
“Ariel has been more of a sixth man for the past two seasons, but she’s also been our second-leading scorer,” Henry said. “I kind of compare her to James Harden, (the Rockets’ new acquisition). In Oklahoma City, he came off bench as instant offense. Now, with the Rockets, he’s getting all the looks. I see her scoring average improving, and I think she will be bigger part of team. She’s a very vocal leader, directing traffic and getting people in position. I think we will see her doing that more this year.”
Joining Hutchinson is lightning quick point guard Joyce Kennerson, who is just a sophomore this season but saw solid minute last season as a freshman. Six-foot-2 senior Dorcieve Davis should man the middle for Memorial and will be joined by 5-foot-10 forward Loren Evans. Both played last season, too, and should be able to bring that experience to bear this year.
“Joyce brought a big spark to the team, a lot of energy off the bench last year” Henry said. “Dorcieve can expand the floor with her range down low. Loren has really taken over the post, leading us in rebounding for both our scrimmages. They’re both left-handed, will bring a lot to us down low. Somer Harris is a three-year varsity player. She plays 1 through 4 for us. She’s like a point guard, but will play on the block in small lineups. We’re still working out the roster, but we figure to have 10 players on it this season, and will probably have a couple of freshman filling out the bench.”
Memorial will kick off its season on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Hardin-Jefferson.
The two new coaches take over programs that have struggled recently. Downs inherits a PN-G girls basketball team that hasn’t won a district game since 2010, while Nederland went 2-10 last season in district play.
Neither team has made the playoffs since 2000, when Nederland finished behind LC-M and Port Arthur Jefferson in District 20-4A. They’ll also face an uphill climb against perennial powers like Beaumont Ozen and Beaumont Central and up-and-comers like Vidor and Livingston.
Benefield is used to that kind of intense competition, having served as an assistant coach under Chris Jost at Orangefield for three years before taking over the Lady Bulldogs. Under Jost, the Orangefield team went 115-51 in the past five seasons, including a playoff appearance every year.
“(Orangefield) was a great program,” Benefield said. “They are really a good basketball school. I was a head volleyball coach at Evadale for two years and then moved to Deweyville for two more years. I worked as an assistant basketball coach all that time, though, and realized that’s what I wanted to do. So, I got a job as an assistant basketball coach at Pearland Dawson. When the hurricane hit (in 2008), my husband wasn’t able to transfer there, so we had to stay in this area, and that’s how I wound up in Orangefield.
“My brother-in-law graduated from Nederland and I know plenty of the teachers in the system. I’m really eager for this opportunity to build a program back up again.”
The Lady Bulldogs return one first-team all-district player in Kelsey Beard, who will bring some height to the Nederland front court. She’s joined by second-team all-district returner Kinsey Miller on the retooled Lady Bulldog team.
“We have seven returners this season ,” Benefield said. “We’ve got six seniors, who will do the job of leading the team. We’ve got two returning juniors who were very successful last season, and we’re hoping that can continue. All our players are excited to get the season started. They’re ready to prove themselves.”
Benefield said she’s trying to mold the team into a defense-first squad, but her bigger goal is to inspire more young girls in the community to take an interest in basketball.
“We’re going to be a very defense-oriented team,” Benefield said. “We’re going to play pressure defense. That’s a philosophy of mine, and our personnel this year are fitting into it well. Hopefully, we can build on that for the future. One of our goals is to get girls in Nederland interested in basketball. Our high school girls will work really hard to prove they can be a good team in the area. That will hopefully build up interest in younger girls.”
Nederland opened its season at 5 p.m. Tuesday at East Chambers.51-42
PN-G only placed one player from last year’s squad on the all-district team and that’s Ryanne Lunceford, who is a great all-around athlete. The Lady Indians will have to build around her if they hope to win their first district game since beating LC-M 43-38 on Jan. 26, 2010.
Downs was an assistant basketball coach at Vidor most recently, also serving as head volleyball coach. She was the head girls basketball coach at both Beaumont Ozen and Hamshire-Fannett in the past.
PN-G opens its season at 5 p.m. Tuesday by hosting Woodville.